Sustainable, Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wines: What do the Terms Mean?

Sustainability is the idea that all farming practices should preserve the land and make the most efficient use of non-renewable resources to provide for current and future generations. Sustainability refers to a range of practices that are not only ecologically sound, but also economically viable and socially responsible. There are wineries that simply call themselves sustainable, but are actually organic. They may have chosen not to go through the long and costly process of becoming certified organic.

Sustainability certifications
While there are no set standards for sustainable farming there are third-party agencies that offer sustainability certifications such as the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing certification program. To learn more visit: . 

Another example is the Global Wine Sector Environmental Sustainability Principles which has a set of guidelines that aims to help wineries and growers take care of the environment, their employees and the community’s interests, along with the vineyard. More information is available at:

Growers of organic grapes do not utilize chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or genetically modified seeds. In order to be certified organic, a farm must not have utilized any of these products for at least three years.  A variety of ground cover plants, extensive use of compost and natural products are used to control pests and insects. There are many small artisanal producers that grow grapes in the spirit of organics, but are not legally certified. 

USDA organic designations

  •  “100% Organic”: The wine is made from 100% certified organic ingredients, processed without synthetic agents and contains no added sulfites*. Naturally occurring sulfite levels in these wines must be less than 20 parts per million. The label will bear the USDA 100% organic seal.
  • “Organic”: The wine is made with 95% certified organic ingredients, and contains no added sulfites. Winemakers must prove that certified organic ingredients aren’t available for the remaining 5% of ingredients. The label will bear the USDA organic seal.
  • “Made with Organic Grapes”: The wine is made with 70% certified organic ingredients, and sulfites can be added up to 100 parts per million. The label can't bear the USDA organic seal.

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In 1924, the basic principles of biodynamic farming were established. The designation applies a holistic approach and philosophy that views farms and vineyards as self-sustaining ecosystems.  It uses the teachings of Austrian anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner who spent his life studying the forces that regulate life and growth. Everything that is done on the farm should bring harmony to the organism, keep the soil healthy and preserve the farm for future generations. While practices such as water conservation and energy reduction are implemented, other cosmic influences often apply such as planting, pruning and harvesting crops according to lunar and astrological cycles. Biodynamic certification can be costly to attain, so just as with organic farming, many biodynamically prepared wines do not say so on the label.
Biodynamic requirements
Biodynamic farms in the U.S. must pass the three-year transition-to-organic period required by the USDA's National Organic Program. Furthermore, they must implement other sustainable farming practices, including energy and water-saving techniques. Biodynamic wines may contain sulfites up to 100 parts per million. The Demeter USA logo on the label guarantees that the wine has been produced biodynamically.  For more information, visit the Demeter Association Website at,

The natural wine philosophy embraces the components of organic and biodynamic grape growing and takes it a step further by including minimum technological intervention in growing grapes and vinifying as naturally as possible. Additives such as sugar, acidifiers, and powdered tannins are avoided. Manipulations such as the use of spinning cones to remove alcohol, micro-oxygenation to accelerate aging, the use of laboratory cultivated yeast, filtering and removal of excess dilution in a wet vintage are unacceptable. In short, natural wines are the truest representation of what nature provided from the land in a particular year. For more information read this article at,
*Sulfites are preservatives, made from diluted mined sulfur, that prevent oxidation and bacterial spoilage. Because sulfites are an ingredient that can occur in wine naturally, and mined sulfites have been used in viticulture for centuries, their inclusion in organic wine is an area of contention.